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  • Writer's pictureAntonis Pagonis

What is the end game to Adelaide United's months of frugality?

Adelaide United's A-League Men off-season has raised eyebrows across the league and anger amongst the South Australian fanbase. With the club not entering the transfer market until mid-September and captain Craig Goodwin leaving due to a contractual disagreement, Front Page Football ponders what is next for the Reds.

Adelaide United captain Craig Goodwin was left frustrated by the club during contract negotiations, which led to his exit to Saudi Arabian club Al Wehda FC. (Craig Goodwin Instagram)


Not all outgoing transfers are created equal. Adelaide United have come to terms with this fact during a tumultuous off-season. When a player like George Blackwood left, the consensus understood that despite the forward being a handy squad member, it would lead to more game time for rising stars Luka Jovanovic and Musa Toure.


When Juande was abruptly released, fans, despite the disappointment in handling the midfielder's exit, which the player vocalised, understood the qualms the club’s hierarchy may have had about re-signing a 37-year-old off the back of a broken leg.


The concern began mounting when regular starter and Olyroos midfielder Louis D’Arrigo was allowed to walk out of the club. The midfielder signed for Polish side Lechia Gdańsk on a free transfer, meaning the club lost one of its brightest young talents without gaining a fee. This concern was compounded by the hierarchy's apparent disinterest in investing in the squad. Adelaide United was the only A-League Men’s club not to make a new signing during the transfer window. Their first signing, Ryan Tunnicliffe, was announced yesterday.


Frustration reached boiling point when, on September 8, a rumour surfaced that captain and Socceroo Craig Goodwin was returning to Saudi Arabian club Al Wehda after disagreements on contract length during extension talks.


Goodwin and wife, Katelyn, have both stated their preference was to stay. But FPF understands that the club refused to accept his terms or even provide a counter-offer on a further three-year extension to his two-year deal to secure his long-term future, despite not asking for a wage hike. This move was seemingly the straw that broke the camel’s back for many Adelaide United supporters, who had seen their team stagnate and lose quality as the rest of the competition made their moves.

The argument has been made that Adelaide United’s squad retention and subsequent youth development can be a difference-maker. But when that façade falls apart, the concerning truth is revealed. It becomes painfully evident of a club suddenly desperate to make moves months after their competitors have made theirs.


It was meant to turn out differently for the Reds heading into season 2023/24. After publicly unveiling himself as the club's majority owner towards the back end of last season, Dutch businessman Cor Adriaanse reassured Adelaide United fans that his consortium would continue to invest in an interview with KeepUp.


“Investment at the right elements and regarding certain strategic matters, which will ensure the development of the club both on and off the pitch. Yes, we are invested. Yes, we are willing to invest. But there should be common sense. Nobody wants to drill down money through the pit. We are here to build a sustainable club, both on and off the pitch. I can’t stress that enough," Adriaanse stated.


“That will lead into a variety of strategies where the leadership team, together with a new chair will have time to look at where are the strengths, where are the weaknesses, but also where opportunities are for us to grow, then come up with a plan to execute. Again, as investors I would like to stress, we are in (for) the long term. There is no short-term view on potentially selling the club whatsoever. We believe in the APL plan to further grow the league. It's going to be an interesting ride.”

Adelaide United majority owner Adriaanse (left) after publicly revealing his involvement with the club alongside CEO Nathan Kosmina (middle) and Chairman Ned Morris (right). (KeepUp)


Regarding investment, Tunnicliffe was signed on a two-year deal. Outside that, the only other noteworthy one the club made during the winter was buying out Marcelo Carrusca’s academy and integrating it into its infrastructure, a significant move that, should it be executed correctly, can pay dividends in the future. But it does little to alleviate the club's current predicament.


Adelaide United refers to itself as “The People’s Club”, also the name of an upcoming club-produced documentary celebrating 20 years since its inception. But they are currently alienating themselves from the people they claim to represent. Over the past couple of seasons, a lot of goodwill has been built between the club and its fans, which has seen crowds sporadically return to Hindmarsh in numbers. The club’s lack of proactivity and investment foreshadows a history of a disconnect between fans and the club repeating itself, which has always carried adverse side effects.

Goodwin clarified his feelings on the club’s handling of his situation, and most Adelaide United fans have unsurprisingly taken his side in the split. The club is yet to communicate why Goodwin, who wanted to stay, was allowed to walk. The financial element of re-signing Goodwin cannot be argued, as that was not the nature of the former captain's request. The length of the deal for a player in his 30s is also a weak argument for a consortium that offered a 34-year-old Isaias a three-year contract, especially with Goodwin, fresh of a Johnny Warren Medal, still in his prime and valuable elsewhere on the pitch, should his explosiveness start to fade.


The Reds have lost the league’s Johnny Warren Medallist, a Socceroo, the personification of modern-day South Australian football, and crucially, another pivotal leader for a squad getting rapidly younger.


When deciding to back youth, clubs need to support their inexperienced young players with mentors, something Adelaide United is running thin on. Multiple players have been promoted from the NPL to the A-League Men team. While richly deserving of the opportunity, they also deserve the appropriate support to handle that jump.


Last season, the Central Coast Mariners ran a successful model of what Adelaide United is trying to employ, with quality imports, experienced players, and even a Mindset Coach to help get the best out of their team. The Reds leave much to be desired in these areas heading into 2023/24.


Despite youth development being a significant focus, Adelaide United's development pathway has seen two of their best up-and-coming talents, Kane Vidmar and Nathan Amanatidis, take up opportunities with Western United and Sydney FC, respectively, which has also baffled followers of the club's NPL squad. A club that focuses on developing and providing opportunities for their young players should also be proactive in securing them to senior deals and matching the respect opposing clubs have for them.


Adelaide United will face turbulent moments on the field in the upcoming campaign, as all clubs do. Their fans will look for someone to step up to make a difference. As presently constructed, no one in the club’s squad has consistently done so at a senior professional level before. With an absence of experienced heads and leaders at the peak of their powers, poor form can mutilate into something more sinister, which is harder to shake off. It can then have the opposite effect on the young players the Reds are attempting to develop.

 

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Recently signed on scholarship contracts, Bailey O'Neil, Panagiotis Kikianis, and Giuseppe Bovalina are a young trio who will be involved in Adelaide United's 2023/24 A-League Men squad. (Adelaide United)


What has frustrated Reds fans further is that there seems to be a lack of communication or transparency from the club’s hierarchy regarding its structure and squad construction. The only form of communication has been from Carl Veart through brief previews of the club’s Australia Cup matches.


In the past, former Head of Football Bruce Djite would regularly update the fans with as much clarity and honesty as possible on developments in the club on all social media channels. The lack of public communication from Chairman Ned Morris and newly appointed Head of Football Marius Zanin, an empty spot for more than a year until Zanin stepped into it recently, has not helped fans feel connected to "The People’s Club".


These figures of the club's hierarchy operate according to a budget provided by Adriaanse and his consortium. The majority owner said that investment would be made to create “a sustainable club”, but since those statements were shared, the investment has been absent. The club has looked anything but sustainable.


The off-season may have seen the club somewhat benefit financially through outgoing transfers, but should these exits not be adequately replaced and performances suffer, the club will monetarily suffer in the long term should fans begin voting with their feet, as they have done previously.


Since Adelaide United’s owners made themselves public, the ride has indeed been “interesting", as Adriaanse predicted, but in anything but a positive way. One would think the club will now bring bodies through the door to cover the hole Goodwin's exit has left. But the betrayal many fans feel, compounded with the lack of transparency, has created an unfortunate environment heading into the 2023/24 season.

Adelaide United's best bet to salvage this situation is by starting the new campaign positively, which may be a tall task for Veart, whose side exited the Australia Cup in ugly fashion to the Western Sydney Wanderers. Veart has lost some key players and desperately awaits more reinforcements meeting the club’s criteria. The pool of free agents in world football to choose from to join Tunnicliffe is ever-shrinking as the club continues to try and rectify a season that already seems on the verge of being lost a month before its first kick-off.


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